Inside an Electric Screwdriver

An electric screwdriver. See more power tool pictures.
©2007 HowStuffWorks

Electric screwdrivers are neat because they combine batteries, motors, gears and a switch into one extremely compact and powerful package. Let's take one apart and see what's inside! Here's the screwdriver we will be dissecting:

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When you take off the cover you find all of the basic parts of the screwdriver lined up from one end to the other. You will find:

  • A rechargeable battery
  • A switch
  • An electric motor
  • A dual planetary gear system (cool!)
  • A simple locking mechanism for the chuck
  • The chuck itself, which holds the screwdriver

Ridges on the inside of the­ case and two long pins hold all these parts together.

©2007 HowStuffWorks

­­The parts inside are pretty simple. We'll look at the switch and how it sends electricity to the motor in the next section.­


Switch Block

The switch block really has two roles in this screwdriver:

  • In the center position it prevents electricity from flowing to the motor.
  • It can supply power of either polarity to the motor, so the motor can spin in either a forward or reverse direction.

An outside and inside view of the screwdriver's switch

The two metal loops at the bottom of the switch are on either side of a contact that leads to the motor. With the switch in its neutral position, nothing touches the contact. But when you move the switch to one side or the other, one loop touches the contact, completing the circuit.


The two loops at the bottom of the switch slide to touch a metal contact.
©2007 HowStuffWorks

The wires deliver electricity from the batteries. The batteries and the contact for recharging them are inside the screwdriver's handle.

The batteries and handle
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Gears carry the motion from the motor to the screwdriver bit. On the next page, we'll take a look at how the gears fit together.­


Electric Motor

The electric motor
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The electric motor is a standard DC electric motor. See How Electric Motors Work to see the parts inside an actual electric motor.

On the end of the motor is a small 6-tooth gear. This gear fits into the center of the planetary gear system, as shown here:


A gear attached to the motor fits in the middle of the three smaller gears.

This gear system is the heart of any electric screwdriver. An electric motor by itself is a pretty weak device. You can grab the axle and stop a small motor's rotation very easily. But if you gear the motor way down, it can have enough strength to drive a screw into a piece of wood effortlessly. In this screwdriver the dual planetary gear system has a 56:1 reduction ratio. With this reduction ratio, the motor will turn 56 times for the chuck to turn once. This means that the chuck moves very slowly relative to the motor, but that the chuck has a great deal of torque (it takes 56 times more strength to stop the motor from spinning because of the gear ratio).

©2007 HowStuffWorks

Here's where that number comes from. The center gear has to turn about three times to turn its three neighboring gears once. These gears have to turn about two and a half times to travel around the outer ring once, for a total of about 7.5 turns. The outer ring is stationary -- other gears just move around inside it.

The gear set has two identical layers, one on the top and one on the bottom (you can't see the bottom layer in the pictures -- it's hidden behind the top). The top layer of the gear system mounts to a little table that has a second 6-tooth gear under it. Because of the movement of the top layer, this gear moves once for every 7.5 rotations of the motor. It takes 7.5 turns of the bottom 6-tooth gear for the bottom gears to travel around the ring once, for a total gear ratio of about 56.25:1. The bottom gears attach to a piece of metal that turns the chuck once for every 56 rotations of the motor.

For more information on how electric motors work, read How Motors Work. For more information on how gears work, please read How Gears Work. To learn more about power tools and related topics, follow the links on the next page.


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